|Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Any similarities to persons living, dead, space aliens, goats, forum posters, editors, beta readers, musicians, or writers are purely coincidental. There may be sexual content so if this, in any form, offends you, please cease reading this lest it send you screaming from the room. If you are not of legal age to read this, please don't.|
|Chapter 53: Réunion or Bust!|
Frank Tittle was, as he would freely admit, a slob, a fact with which his three ex-wives vehemently agreed. The interior of his car could charitably be described as a disaster area; the rear foot-wells had not seen the light of day in years, due to the large volume of paperwork and fast food wrappers that had accumulated there. His passenger foot well had a lower garbage content, but the files and stacks of legal papers had already exceeded the height of the passenger seat.
Frank followed the directions Jim had given him, and parked a block from the condo. He eased his lanky, pot-bellied frame out of the car. He stretched, feeling a twinge from his bad back. He’d recently celebrated his sixtieth birthday, and used his hand to pat down what little remained of his hair.
His clothes – cotton slacks and a Hawaiian shirt – were ruffled and wrinkled, but he knew his clients didn’t hire him for appearances. They hired him because he won cases. For all his faults, he had one of the best legal reputations in the state, and charged accordingly.
Frank Tittle had long since learned to make use of his flaws. When useful to do so, he had often presented himself in court as disorganized and barely competent, which he’d found to be a useful method of inspiring overconfidence in the prosecutor, and allowing him to make use of a little self-deprecating humor to help win the jury over.
Those reasons had played a role in Jim’s choice, but a bigger one was that Frank had, on five different occasions, been himself indicted on various charges, all having to do with breaking the law in order to help a client. Frank had been acquitted on technicalities every time, and those facts had drawn him some notice within the legal profession.
Frank stooped to pick up two large McDonald’s bags that had been on his passenger seat, taking a surreptitious look around as he did so, before locking his car and walking down the street, away from the condo. He’d been careful to look for any sign of a tail – he was always cautious when a client was on the run.
He made his way to the condo building by a roundabout route, and after pausing in the lobby for a while, made his way up to the condo.
Jim answered on the first knock, and ushered Frank into the condo. “Thanks for coming. I guess it’s been a few years.”
Frank rubbed his jaw and glanced around, giving Dirk an appraising glance before looking at Jim. “That it has. I don’t have a lot of time, so let’s get down to business. First my retainer, in cash, as agreed.”
Jim nodded, handing over three banded stacks of hundred-dollar bills, totaling thirty thousand dollars, which Frank counted, and then pocketed. “That’ll do for right now, and as you know, my fee is six hundred an hour. I don’t often represent clients who are fleeing the law. It’s my duty, as an officer of the court, to advise you to turn yourselves in, and now that the spiel is out of the way, I need to know what’s going on. You can’t expect to remain at large for long, not in a case with this much publicity, so unless you have means to get to a country that does not have an extradition agreement with the United States, you have to assume you’ll be captured, and then you’ll be arraigned. Now, when it comes to a defense strategy, you two are doing yourself no favors by running. However, Jim made it clear to me on the phone that for reasons he won’t disclose unless they become relevant, you will not consider surrendering yourselves.”
Jim nodded. “Right now, our main concern is to find out who really planted the bomb. We’re not telling you everything just yet, and there’s a sound reason, but for now, suffice it to say that it is important that we remain at liberty. One factor is that Dirk cannot talk freely to the police, or even use some exonerating evidence, because he’s a few weeks short of the statute of limitations for a matter that’s related, but the authorities must remain unaware of.”
Dirk took a deep breath, and looked Frank in the eyes. “I know how that sounds, but Jim and I are both innocent of what they’re accusing us of, and I did not kill my wife or anyone else, I’ve never committed a violent crime, and neither has Jim.”
Frank gave Dirk a level stare. “I don’t care.”
“I said I don’t care if you’re guilty or not. My job is to defend you, and the only way your guilt or innocence matters to me is if it affects how I defend you. Other than that, I do not care.” Frank replied, and then handed Jim and Dirk a fast food bag each. “You’ll find hamburgers, fries, and cell phones in there. The phones are pre-paid, purchased with cash. I bought one for myself as well, and I’ll leave you the number. Do not call my office again; it’s a technical infraction for the police to monitor my phones to discern a client’s whereabouts, but in a fugitive-from-justice situation there’s really no downside for them, so we need to assume that they will.”
Dirk shook his head. “Hold on, I’m not done with the ‘I don’t care’ thing. How the hell can you do a decent job defending us if you don’t even believe us?”
“Simple. My job is to get you out of this with as small a penalty as possible: preferably none. That is my only goal, period. That is not the same thing as proving your innocence, and I have no interest in the latter,” Frank replied, and then turned his head to look at Jim.
Jim nodded. “Dirk, this may sound strange to you, but that’s how a good criminal lawyer thinks. Forget anything you’ve learned from TV; the real world does not work that way, and lawyers aren’t out to prove innocence. Frank’s job is to defend us; nothing else matters to him, nor should it. The only difference with Frank is he’s up front in admitting it.”
Frank gave Dirk a sympathetic smile. “I know that all of this can be difficult to deal with, but I’m good at what I do. I’ve defended clients I knew to be murderers, and I’ve managed to get some acquitted. One reason I said ‘I don’t care’ is to let you know that I am not here to judge you; I am here to defend you. If you did what you’re accused of, it only matters to me as it applies to crafting the best defense strategy.”
“Okay, I understand, and I’ll say it again, Jim and I are innocent of what we’re accused of.” Dirk got up and began to pace, head down and shoulders slumped. “Okay, if that’s how it works, fine. But, what about Trev?”
Jim turned to face Frank. “There’s a corollary matter, one that takes precedence for both Dirk and me. Someone tried to kill Dirk’s son with that bomb, or at least it sure looks that way. I sure as hell didn’t do it, and Dirk couldn’t have, so we have to find out who did, and why. It’s highly relevant to the case – getting proof would invalidate the charges against me and one of the main ones against Dirk – but regardless, we have to find out what happened, in case they plan to try again.”
Frank shrugged. “Very well. I have a private investigator who I’ve worked with on many occasions, and for a case like this, I’d need him anyway. I’ll bring him down to meet you the day after tomorrow. As for Trevor, he may be pivotal to the case, so we’ll need to find a way for the investigator and me to interview him. Okay, I’m sitting here on your dime, so I’ll get to the point: do you want to keep paying cash, or would you prefer another means? I would take a check.”
“How much?” Jim asked.
“Five thousand for the investigator’s retainer.”
“My turn, I’m paying this.” Dirk announced.
Jim shook his head. “You can’t, Dirk, not unless you have your checkbook with you, and I haven’t seen it. Any other way of getting money out of your bank means getting in contact with them, or using an ATM machine, and I guarantee the cops are watching for that,” Jim said, pulling his own checkbook from his pocket. “I’ve been keeping a large balance in my checking account for a while now, just in case.”
“Thanks,” Dirk said, in a resigned tone, before brightening as he said, “Somebody is going to have to go to my store soon to put up a long-term closed sign. My checkbook is there, they could bring it.”
Frank shrugged. “Send the investigator; he charges half per hour what I do, and he’ll probably want to go there anyway.”
Jim wrote out a check, and then paused to ask Frank. “How about I make this out for thirty-five grand, and you give me back the cash I gave you? I’d like to keep as much cash as I can.”
Frank glanced at the bank’s logo on the check. “They have a branch near my office... Okay, because I know you, I’ll do it, but make it for thirty-seven thousand.”
Jim rolled his eyes. “Two thousand bucks for taking a check for your retainer? How much would it have been if you didn’t know me?”
Frank shrugged. “For fugitive clients who might have frozen accounts? The same, but I’d have billed you for the hamburgers and fries, too. In this case, they’re on me.” Frank pocketed the check and returned Jim’s cash. He walked over to a table and pulled two folded retainer agreements from his pocket. “These are standard retainer agreements, specifying that additional retainer amounts may be required as we proceed. Also, just to be clear; those phones are for contacting me. I am not doing anything to aid and abet your fugitive status. So, if you find yourselves in need of assistance in that regard, do not come to me. I’m a lawyer, not a private investigator.”
Jim understood the clear hint, nodded his thanks, and then bent over to sign. Dirk signed his own agreement next.
Frank carefully folded the retainer agreements. “I’ll check with the prosecutor’s office and ask for discovery-rule disclosure of evidence, witnesses, and depositions. We don’t even know the formal charges yet. I’ll file a motion to compel if they drag their feet, but they’ll be able to beat it; the discovery rule only applies after arraignment, and they can’t arraign without you present. Additionally, there is zero chance I can cut a deal for you two to make bail, not with the potential charges on top of the flight. Also, if there are Federal charges, we’ll need to retain an attorney experienced in Federal cases. I’ll be blunt: unless I know what’s going on, all of it, my advice may be flawed. Your call, but the next time I see you, I’d suggest you tell me everything, and I do mean everything. I’ll need it, in order to plan a defense strategy. I’ll be back in two days, and I’ll bring the investigator.”
Dirk waited until Frank had left, and asked, “What do you think? And what about Trev? Can we trust Tittle, or the investigator, with all of it?”
Jim sat down and thought for a few moments. “Frank is unconventional and abrasive, but he’s got a fine record. Most of his cases never go to trial, but when they do... in one case I remember, he created reasonable doubt damn near out of thin air, and got a killer who was guilty as sin off scot-free. An additional issue is that we’re the clients; Trevor isn’t, so he’s not covered by attorney-client privilege – yet. Trevor is a minor, so what you can do is make Frank his attorney. Then, Trevor would be protected by privilege. So, if we do that... I think the best course is to tell them everything.”
Dirk sat motionless for over a minute, staring at a blank section of wall. Finally, in a voice barely above a whisper, he said, “We’re so damn close, after all these years... Every instinct I have is screaming at me to just run out the clock, but okay, I’ll do it.”
A new day dawned on Atlantis, and Trevor settled into a routine; wake at dawn, note the angle of the sun on the bows, and then search the horizon. Pump out the water that had leaked into the bilges overnight, and then check his improvised sails and rigging.
Trevor cast a hateful glance at his garlic crusher, and then walked out into the cockpit, where he stared forlornly at the empty bracket that had once held his hull-mounted EPIRB, stolen by the pirates, along with all his other gear. Trevor wished again that, instead of his garlic crusher, he’d managed to rescue something useful.
Trevor walked out to the cockpit, feeling the warm, sultry breeze on his naked body. The wind had increased and had shifted, as Trevor had predicted, to a little west of south. That put Madagascar beyond his reach, and made his ability to track far enough east to reach Réunion a near certainty. Trevor looked at his map again, checked his compass, and made a slight adjustment to the rudders, steering Atlantis five degrees to the left of the wind track.
The hot morning sun blazed into the cockpit, and Trevor felt its heat, including a few unaccustomed places. 'that's not somewhere I want to get a sunburn,' he thought, glancing down.
At noon, Trevor made his sightings and calculated his position, factoring in his estimate that Atlantis was now making three and a half knots. Trevor grinned: that was eighty-four nautical miles a day, which meant he could make landfall in Réunion in as little as five days.
Trevor spent a couple of hours reading in the sheltered cockpit, glancing at the empty horizon every few minutes, hoping for a ship.
In the late afternoon, Trevor resumed working on Atlantis: cleaning the floors and sorting the collected debris. Trevor discarded nothing; not one scrap of wood, not one empty can.
Just before sunset, Trevor treated himself to a can of chili with his hot dogs, and then it was time to return to the hard floor of Joel’s cabin, for another long night of troubled sleep with his gun by his side.
Awakened by a nightmare, Trevor lay thinking for a couple of hours, thinking about the water that was leaking into his bilges. He suspected leaking bullet holes as the source, but then another possibility entered his mind; he’d only glanced in his engine compartments, but he’d clearly seen the damage the pirates had caused as they had prepared to rip the engines out. Trevor had guessed that they’d found the task too difficult and had abandoned it, but he began to wonder if they’d caused further damage. ‘Maybe they tried winching them out without disconnecting the gearbox... That could have wrecked the prop shaft seals, and that could cause a leak.’
In the new light of day, Trevor walked aft and looked down through the hatchway, at his starboard engine, and sighed. The pirates had cut the fuel and electrical lines while preparing to remove it, but that didn’t tell him what had happened under the engine. Trevor dropped into the compartment and squirmed onto his side, feeling for any sign of a leak. The bilge bottoms were wet, but due to the flooding, that was expected. Finding no clear indicator of a leaking shaft seal, Trevor withdrew his arm, concluding that if it was leaking, it wasn’t leaking a lot. ‘I’ll just have to keep pumping, no big deal unless it gets worse,’ Trevor thought with a sigh, using a piece of mirror to direct sunlight into the compartment’s recesses, looking for bullet holes or other damage, but there was none to find. Instead, his eyes fell on the old plastic tackle-box that he used for a rag box. Its lid was ajar – the pirates had looked in it – but it still held its contents. It was mounted to the underside of the deck near the hatchway, so Trevor hadn’t been able to see it when he’d looked from above after the attack, and had assumed it was gone. He took it on deck, then looked for, and found, the one in his port engine compartment during his check of its shaft bearing and gland.
Trevor’s first thought was that the discarded cloth might come in handy for patching the sail and for padding his sleeping spot.
Trevor carried the two boxes into the salon, where he upended them, dumping the contents on the floor, spreading them out, surveying his prize. What a short while before was little more than garbage was now more valuable to him than money. He had found four towels and a bed sheet, which he knew would help with his sleep. He also had three tattered old t-shirts, a quartet of holey socks, the T-shirt sleeves Joel had cut off, and a few washcloths.
Trevor began sorting his find, and then, under a towel, he spotted, wadded up in a ball, something unexpected: Joel’s discarded clothes. Just three holey socks, and the cargo shorts Joel had torn when he fell on Samos Island. He stood up and tugged on the cargo shorts, and that everyday act made him feel on top of the world. It was one step closer to normalcy.
Trevor sat down again, savoring the unfamiliar feel of cloth against his skin. ‘At least I won’t have to be rescued naked,’ he thought, smiling.
Trevor began folding the towels, and as he reached for one, his hand brushed his leg, and he felt a small lump. Curious, he glanced down at the pocket and popped open the Velcro. Reaching in, Trevor felt something hard and rubbery, and drew it out.
“Joel’s old watch!” Trevor yelled, leaping to his feet, holding it in awe as he looked at the digits on the cheap plastic watch’s badly scratched face. He couldn’t quite read it due to the damaged plastic, so he wet his finger in his mouth and rubbed some spit on the watch, allowing him to read the display.
Knowing that he held something far more precious than gold, Trevor whooped with delight, and raised his fist to yell, “Yes!” at the ceiling.
Trevor’s joy was well-founded: an accurate timepiece is perhaps the most versatile navigational instrument ever invented. In fact, mobile clocks had been invented for the purpose of navigation, and all small modern timepieces trace their lineage to those first maritime clocks.
Trevor cradled the precious watch in his hands and looked at the digits, noting the time of three minutes past seven. ‘Joel had this set to Greek time...’
Trevor’s mind flashed back to the garden cafe in Rhodes, where he and Joel had seen the sundial. Trevor remembered Joel’s comment that the watch didn’t read the same as the sundial. Trevor began to grin as he remembered telling Joel the reason, ‘Yeah, Rhodes is a little west of the noon point of the Eastern European Time Zone, which accounts for the eight minutes part of it, plus they’re on Daylight Saving Time so an hour ahead, which is why your watch is about fifty-two minutes faster than the sundial.’
Trevor had exactly what he needed; the longitude of Rhodes from his map and what time the watch read at local noon there. ‘Rhodes is at twenty-eight degrees east, and every hour of change to local noon is fifteen degrees of longitude, so I’ll see what time the watch reads at local noon today, and from that, I can calculate my longitude.’
Trevor waited impatiently as the shadows shortened, and then began shooting sun angles, holding the tube of his astrolabe so that the sun shone directly down its barrel, making a small round dot of sunlight in the shadow on Trevor’s stomach. The alternative would have been to look down the barrel and use it as a sight, but that would have meant looking directly into the sun.
Trevor took a sighting every five minutes. Once he was confident – due to the now-decreasing angle of the sun – that noon had passed, he sat down in the salon with a pencil and paper, glancing at his torn map as be began doing the math.
It was the simplest of formulas; all he had to do to find that number was divide three-hundred-sixty – the number of degrees in any circle – into the twenty-four hours in a day. For fractions of an hour, he divided sixty by fifteen. The result was that every four minutes of difference in the time of local noon equaled one degree of longitude. ‘Noon in Rhodes was 12:52, noon here looked like it was at 2:32. That’s... a hundred and four minutes difference. Every four minutes is a degree... so that’s twenty-six degrees, and Rhodes is at twenty-eight, so add them...’ His map had longitude lines every five degrees, so, using a straight edge, he eyeballed it and drew a line, north to south, at fifty-four degrees east.
His sun sightings gave him a latitude of thirteen degrees south, so he drew that line east to west, and then made a dark pencil spot where they intersected. “I’m within about a hundred miles of here,” he said with a proud grin. Before the pirate attack, he’d been able to tell his position to within one hundred feet by glancing at the GPS, but now, a hundred miles seemed like precision.
Sobering slightly, Trevor studied the map for a few moments, thinking, ‘It won’t be perfect, but I should be able to fix my position within about a hundred miles, and I’ll be able to keep a log of my course track.’ Trevor had done even better than he thought; though he could not know it, his position dot on the map was only fifty-two miles northeast of his actual position.
Trevor’s ability to eyeball Atlantis’s speed was fairly accurate, usually within twenty percent of actual, but he had two better ways, made possible by the watch. One was to tie a line to a float and toss it overboard, timing it, and then measuring the line. He would have done so, if he’d had enough rope. Fortunately, there was an even easier way: he picked up a small shard of wood and walked to the port bow, where he tossed it into the sea, a few feet off the bow, and began counting off the seconds as Atlantis passed it by. He stopped counting when the wood passed the stern, ten seconds later.
The first part of the math was easy enough; Atlantis was fifty-five feet long, so her speed through the water was five and a half feet per second. Converting that to knots was a little harder: Trevor knew that a nautical mile is six thousand and seventy six feet, so he multiplied five point five by sixty, to get feet per minute, and then by sixty again, to get feet per hour: nineteen thousand eight hundred. Faced with a difficult long-division problem, Trevor rounded the numbers to the nearest thousand and then knocked off three zeros from each, leaving him with the much simpler task of dividing two hundred by six, which he knew would be close enough. The result was three and a third knots. His visual estimate had been three, so the greater accuracy pleased him. With it, he could better estimate the distances he was covering, which he could cross-check with his position fixes, giving him a way to tell if a position fix was way off, and also, over time, to improve his accuracy.
The speed measurement could not take into account currents, only speed through water, but Trevor knew that the southbound current he was in would average about one knot, year-round. That added a knot to his actual speed, which meant that Atlantis was doing just over a hundred miles a day.
Trevor watched the sunset that evening, and wrote the time in his navigation notes, beginning a column for daily sunrise and sunset. All he needed was to record the changing sunrise and sunsets for two days, and he would be able to estimate the length of the day within two or three minutes. Solar noon is exactly halfway between sunrise and sunset, so the watch would, within a couple of days, give Trevor a far more accurate way to estimate noon – divide the length of the day by two.
That night, using the bed sheet and towels, Trevor made himself a place to sleep in the cockpit, so he could keep a better watch for shipping. The moon was nearly full, so every night provided more moonlight, and thus a greater hope of rescue. The moonlight was diffuse, scattered by the thin wisps of high cirrus clouds that had been depriving Trevor of his view of the stars.
The next day, Trevor took one more step to improve his navigational accuracy: he set to work figuring out a way to compensate for the seasonal changes in the sun’s height at noon relative to the horizon.
The Earth’s axial tilt is roughly twenty-three point four degrees, a number that Trevor did not know by heart. However, he knew how to find it easily; the tropics of Capricorn and Cancer, along with the equator, were marked on his map, and the latitude of the two tropics, in degrees, is almost precisely the axial tilt of the earth. This is because the Earth’s tilt is relative to the plane of its orbit around the sun, and so in the December solstice, the sun is directly overhead at noon on the Tropic of Capricorn. The June solstice finds the sun over the Tropic of Cancer, and the April and September equinoxes place it over the equator.
Trevor needed to find a way to calculate the rate of daily change, otherwise every passing day would degrade his latitude calculations by over twenty additional miles. So far, he’d simply guessed a correction, but he knew that method would not suffice.
Trevor mulled the problem in his mind, picturing the Earth, tilted on its axis, orbiting around the sun. The sun’s daily change of latitude is fastest at the equinoxes and gradually slowing, reaching a halt at the solstices roughly ninety days later. ‘It’s not linear so I can't just divide to find degrees per day,’ he thought, looking at his map.
He was sure the problem could be
worked out with some spherical trigonometry, but math was not
his strong point so he had no idea how to do so. What he needed,
he knew, was an approximation. It didn’t need to be perfect,
just a close estimate.
Trevor drew a dot on the equator, and used a piece of fishing line – like he had when making the astrolabe – to draw a ninety degree arc – a quarter of a circle. He stretched the line from the equator to the Tropic of Capricorn, and used that length for the radius of his circle. Using a pencil held to the end of the fishing line, he drew his arc, centered on the equatorial dot, down from the equator, initially south and then curving around to the east, until it became parallel to and merged with the east-west line of the Tropic of Capricorn. Had he continued to complete the circle, the top edge would have been in the northern hemisphere, on the Tropic of Cancer. However, all he needed was the quarter circle he’d drawn.
The arc could have been drawn anywhere on the map of the word between the equator and the Tropic of Capricorn. Trevor chose to put it in the central Indian Ocean only because that piece of the map was handy and convenient to use.
Trevor knew the approximate dates of the equinoxes and solstices – the dates the seasons changed. They often vary by a day or so, depending on one’s location and the year, but Trevor recalled the 22nd for the September equinox, and the 21st for the December solstice. That put them eighty-nine days apart. ‘Ninety will have to be close enough,’ Trevor thought, as he used the edge of his compass rose and a straight edge from its center to make ninety individual marks along the arc.
Each mark would represent the
sun’s position on that day, counting from the equator at the
equinox. Trevor made his dot for today’s position, checked how
many degrees south of the equator it was, and added that number
to his noon sun angle, to get his adjusted latitude in degrees.
It wasn’t perfect, he knew, but he smiled with pride at what he’d achieved.
What Trevor had made was, in essence, a simple mechanical calculator; the arc on the map was the analog for the sun’s seasonal motion. By measuring only the vertical component – the north-south distance, in degrees of latitude, of his dot to the equator – he could obtain his correction factor in degrees.
Trevor glanced at the line labeled Tropic of Capricorn on his map. ‘Capricorn, the sign of the goat,’ he thought, and then in a spur of whimsy he began sketching a stylized goat head in his notebook. He’d never had an interest in sketching before, but now, alone on the sea, he found it relaxing. His first sketch was a crude one, but he’d already decided to sketch his improvised sail, and then the constellations of the night sky.
On the fifth day after the pirate attack, Trevor awoke as the first glimmer of dawn lit the dark horizon, and swept his eyes around at the empty sea, and kept up his search as sunrise neared. Knowing that he was getting close to Réunion, he hoped to pick up signs of it; a distant ship, a seabird, anything. However, there was nothing to be seen; the horizon was empty.
Trevor noted the time of sunrise, and the position of the sun told Trevor that he was still heading south and he smiled. He returned to the helm to keep watch.
Through the long morning hours, Trevor maintained his vigil, on the lookout for reefs and any sign of land.
For an hour, Trevor kept a hopeful eye on the southern horizon, and at noon, he again took multiple sun sightings, throwing out the outliers and averaging the rest to calculate his position: his estimate placing him sixty miles north by northwest of Réunion. ‘Almost there,’ he thought, grinning at the notion of rescue. He knew his estimate could be off, but it matched well with his course track, and his guess was that he was accurate to within a hundred miles.
Late in the afternoon, Trevor noticed the seas changing again, becoming a darker blue, and the swells less agitated. Trevor held course, thinking that Réunion lay just over the horizon, somewhere off his bows.
Half an hour after sunset, Trevor saw a contrail, lit by the last rays of the setting sun far above the earth. It was to his north, and he had no way to produce light. Watching the contrail, which was heading west, Trevor wondered where it was from and where it was going.
Trevor remained awake all night, watching for any sign of land, any glimmer of light, but seeing only the stars, and then later, the sea glittering in the moonlight.
Late that night, Trevor looked at the stars in the clear sky – the first chance he’d had in several days – finding the cross-shaped constellation low on the southern horizon, and used it to gauge his direction, finding a point four times its length from its base, and then looking at the horizon directly below that point. It was slightly off from his makeshift compass, and though Trevor knew that local anomalies could throw a compass off – his home waters were notorious for it – and the discrepancy bothered him.
Trevor went forward for an unobstructed view of the sky, and studied the cross-shaped pattern of stars. He absently glanced a bit to his right, noticing another cross-shaped constellation, this one a little larger than the one he’d been using. “Uh oh,” he muttered, trying to figure out which one was the real Southern Cross. He couldn’t use them both: the one on his right pointed to the west of where the first one did.
The two cross-shaped arrangements of stars that Trevor could see were not both constellations. One was just an alignment of several bright stars, colloquially known as the False Cross, due to its penchant for fooling mariners unfamiliar with the southern skies. The other was the real Southern Cross, also known as the constellation Crux.
Trevor tried to remember all he could about the Southern Cross. He knew that Australia and New Zealand used it on their flags, but he couldn’t remember exactly what it looked like on them.
Standing beneath that alien sky, looking at the unfamiliar constellations, Trevor wished he still had a star chart, or could remember what had been in his celestial navigation books. He glanced at his compass, then again at the two crosses, trying to reason it out. One held four main stars of varying brightness, forming the tips of the cross, with a fifth, dimmer star within. The other consisted of four roughly equally bright stars, and was larger. Looking at it, Trevor thought, ‘They both look small for constellations, so the larger, more even-looking one I used before is probably it, and that means I’m bearing too far to the east.’ Trevor returned to the cockpit, where he set Atlantis’s rudders so that she steered ten degrees to starboard of the wind track.
There were other signs of land that Trevor was alert for; such as the sky glow created by its city lights. He figured he had a good chance of seeing the large, mountainous island from up to fifty miles away in perfect visibility, in time to alter course towards it if his track was off. Réunion Island is forty miles across, and Trevor felt he could still reach it even if he was off to either side by thirty or more miles, and if not, he could at least come close enough to attract the attention of day boaters or other coastal traffic. That meant the target area he had to hit was over one hundred miles across, and he felt confident that he could do so. He held onto that thought, because the alternative – passing Réunion and being swept into the vast stormy reaches of the Southern Ocean – was a fate he did not wish to contemplate.
“Réunion or Bust!” Trevor shouted at the sea, eagerly scanning the dark horizon ahead for his first hint of land.
© 2010 C James
Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!"
Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions.
Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice.
Thanks also to Talonrider and MikeL for beta reading.
Thank You to RedA for Beta reading and advice, and to
Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and